by Dr. Hanna Ian

From mid-February to the end of March, copious amounts of Arizona’s most allergenic pollen billow out from Juniper trees. Junipers are to the Southwest what fir trees are to the Northwest: widespread and represented by several species. While Junipers define the landscape on the Colorado plateau with their glacial growth, half-dead/half-alive appearance and fragrant aroma, they are the significant trigger of allergic reactions in winter.

While Junipers are found from sea level to 10,000 FT in elevation across the West, they are most abundant in the Coconino National Forest at elevations between 4,500 8,000 feet. They are common on the mesa tops and ridges and often found in association with Piñon and Ponderosa pines.

Juniper tree pollen triggers sneezing, wheezing, coughing, itchy and watery eyes, itchy red rashes on the eyelids, nasal congestion, headache and asthma. Approximately 50% of children and adults residing in Coconino County are affected. Juniper pollens are unique, in that they can cause allergic reactions in individuals with no other environmental allergy or sensitivity. This high allergenicity has to do with the size and buoyancy of the pollen.

During the blooming season, Juniper trees produce abundant that clouds of pollen that can be seen drifting in the air like smoke. Click on this to see a juniper tree discharging pollen.

The dry warm climate and high wind velocity of northern Arizona can effortlessly spread Juniper pollen 120 miles. The small size of the pollen is easily conveyed through the mucus membrane of the eyes, nose and mouth. After a few years of moderate exposure, even the least allergic person will develop a reaction to Junipers.

Self-care for the allergic reaction includes anti-inflammatory nasal spray, over-the-counter antihistamines and avoidance. Conventional medical treatments of steroid injection to down-regulate the immune system or under-the skin-injections of tree pollen to desensitize the immune system provide temporary relief only. Both approaches must be repeated to suppress the symptoms.

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